Alberta not likely to pursue ‘COVID-zero’ as case numbers continue to climb sharply

CALGARY — With the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita in the country, Alberta shows no signs of changing its approach to curbing the spread.

The province’s seven-day average sits at 30.91 cases per 100,000 population. Manitoba is next with 29.

Some researchers are calling on the province to pursue so-called “COVID-zero” — or no new cases for 28 consecutive days.

The approach has been used successfully in several countries around the world — it does prevent deaths and long-term health costs associated with the novel coronavirus and allow life to get back to near-normal.

“If we go for COVID-zero, much less people will die,” said Gosia Gasperowicz, a bio-physics researcher who has been researching COVID spread in her own time.

“Much less people will get sick, much less people will get long COVID, much less people will get out of work and so on.”

Lowering the number of cases significantly will allow the health care system to function properly and better care for non-urgent health problems.

Gasperowicz says that a policy of keeping cases to some lower, acceptable number simply doesn’t work.

“Sooner or later it will burst into the surge we have — every country that has tried this strategy has failed.”

Proponents argue the economic cost of a sharp, severe lockdown is less than repeating waves of lesser lockdowns and disruptions.

But in famous instances, such as Melbourne, Australia, the cost of getting to zero is high. In Alberta, quarantine has largely been on the honour system, but Down Under anyone requiring quarantine was forced to stay in hotel rooms under supervision.

Strict curfews, strict limits on travel even within the city, and regular police ID checks were all backed by hefty fines that were aggressively enforced.

“People have made it absolutely clear that they wre not willing to put up with the various restrictions that are going to be necessary,” said Dr. Christopher Mody, head of microbiology, immunology and infectious disease at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. 

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says a total of four vaccines have been submitted for approval, but it could still take many months before they are widely available.

“That’s enough time for three or four more waves of surging cases,” Gasperowicz says.

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